Rwanda’s Christelle Kwizera, Conquers Africa as sheWins $ USD100,000 in the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative 2019
Ms. Christelle Kwizera, Founder, Water Access (Rwanda) and 2014 MILEAD Fellows from Rwanda emerged a winner at the maiden Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative awards- which awarded $1 Million to 10 young African entrepreneurs.
The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) is a flagship initiative by Jack Ma- founder of Alibaba Group and the Jack Ma Foundation that aims to support and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs.
Water Access Rwanda is a social enterprise committed to eradicating water scarcity by providing appropriate technologies for affordable, reliable and safe access to water.
In this blog, Christelle, in her own words, shares her journey to this incredible achievement and what it means for her big dream to ensure universal access to safe, affordable portable water across Africa. Enjoy.
It was one of those late-in-the-office Fridays when our office manager reminded me of a pending application for the Africa Netpreneur Prize. It was a very lengthy application, and probably for the 3 rdtime I asked her if we had any chance of winning. Were we even the kind of business billionaire Jack Ma was looking for? It sounded like something for just businesses offering ICT solutions, like the e-founders program I was more familiar with.
I remembered being at the Kigali Convention for the Youth Connekt Africa summit where Jack Ma made an appearance. The summit that year saw the highest registered interest and many like me struggled to collect our badges, even as we had speaker roles, due to the number of people trying to still make it into the summit.
I knew Jack Ma carries influence, and that he wanted to dedicate his time in supporting entrepreneurship on the continent, I wanted in. As I went through the lengthy application that was looking for “entrepreneurs who have earned their right to dream, I couldn’t help but feel confident we would win it. I was just still worried about the “net” part of the prize. See Water Access Rwanda is powered by technology in all our operations, but we are more hardware than software, and though we serve a major need currently and one predicted to be a major need of our future, most dismiss us as an old brick-and-mortar business.
The application required us to submit videos of our customers and our employees as references. I was excited by this, as these are my main focuses at Water Access Rwanda.
It wasn’t long and we were informed that we had made it to top 50. I saw the email with my interview time, exactly 45 minutes before my interview was due to start (I was on a sick leave from work and hadn’t checked emails). I quickly tried to get ready, only to realize with horror that the time was probably in Nairobi (GMT+3), which is one hour ahead of Kigali. In fact I was late by 15 minutes! But behold a new email came that the team had bumped our interview times to the afternoon. This was my heavenly sign.
In Nairobi a few weeks after, I had to pitch to a very daunting jury, daunting in their extensive knowledge and investor experience but also in the fact that these were some of the mostly respected entrepreneurs on our continent. My 10 slides with 20 annex slides powerpoint malfunctioned and I had to go through the first 10 minutes of my pitch without it. It was a quick 30 minutes and before I knew it,
I was out of the room and nervous about the results. I felt like they got it, but after meeting the other amazing 19 entrepreneurs, and realizing we were 2 from Rwanda, I started worrying that this could be the end of our run after all. We hosted PWC for an in-depth due-diligence work, and waited for the finalist’s announcement.
We did make it to the top 10, I gleamed with joy as I texted Kevine, from Uzuri K&Y who also made it to finals, at what this meant for our businesses. We could already add $65,000 to our balance sheets.
As we hosted a filming crew for sometime, the competition also became a way for me to make time and go connect with my customers, who shared amazing stories of what the water meant for them, how their lives had been affected. One of our customers lost his wife to a crocodile just before the kiosks arrived. If we had gone sooner.
The ANPI provided a huge platform for Water Access Rwanda, and as I readied for the final show, it was with a grateful heart. I had already received so much by making it this far. The competitive side of me was set on winning the overall competition, but I was humble enough to note just how amazing the other entrepreneurs were. We spent late nights in Ghana discussing potential partnerships. It was amazing.
On the day of the competition, we finally met with the judges and Jet Li the patron of the prize. The fan girl in me was dazzled, while the entrepreneur in me was being mentored by the best in the world. I went through 4 years of university in just one day seating and listening to Jack Ma, Strive Masiyiwa, Joe Tsai and Ibukun Awosika. Their words and advice that day have become part of my entrepreneurship quote reference book.
In the pitch and subsequent round-table, I learnt a lot about competition, the importance of people, and the value of simplicity in your businesses (simple model, simple operations, etc). I was hoping for cheap solutions to avoid burn-out, but I was encouraged by everyone on how to live with it while building great things. The ANPI truly marked a new beginning for me and for WARwanda. It came at a time where the company is re-drafting its strategy, at a turning point of five years of existence, getting ready for the next five years.
I ended up third, but my heart was full as if I was first. And to make it even better I lost to great people!
The Africa Business Heroes Show was a major success in and of itself, overnight our names were everywhere. I doubled followers on social media and got many interesting messages of partnership proposals and just simply congratulatory messages, some from the most unexpected places.
The biggest highlight for me was when our president. H.E. Paul Kagame with Strive Masiyiwa organized a youth townhall in Kigali where Kevine and I got to present about our businesses and answer questions from other young entrepreneurs and young professionals. My soul flew out of me and was swimming in cosmic delight the many times the President, my biggest hero, urged other youth to emulate me, saying my name in the process. I am still living with some remnants of that high.
The competition has opened many doors of opportunities.
The most of them, people willing to help us be even better and live up to the promise of our model, aspiration and vision. It has been a refreshment for me, new energy still inspiring me today. I definitely encourage other entrepreneurs to apply for this year. There will be even more documentaries released about our work and as Temie said it so well in her speech: “I am here to prove that greatness can come from unexpected places.” All the ANPI finalists are businesses driving real change on the continent, creating major opportunities for others. Read about thir work and support them. Realize the amount of struggles overcame everyday to deliver solutions, note that WE have truly earned our right to dream. And if you are such a dreamer, apply and become a Hero for the rest of the continent.
Originally published at https://moremiinitiative.org on February 4, 2020.